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A popular thing that new parents and even parents-to-be ponder is what is the right age for a child to start traveling. This is one of those questions that everyone has an opinion on – especially as it relates to little ones still in the age range where they may cry, kick airplane seats, or unexpectedly get sick everywhere. The best answer I can think of to this common question, only has a little bit to do with the child, and has everything to do with the parent.
The right age for your child to start traveling is really when you are ready to travel with them. Traveling with a child, or children, bares very little resemblance to traveling without children. It is an entirely different activity that isn’t necessarily worse, but is simply very different and requires a non-trivial amount of work both before travel and certainly while on your trip. This is especially true with young children, which I will presume are the ones in question when someone asks what age is the right age for children to start traveling.
A trip with young children is not a vacation. It is doing everything you do for your children at home + 89 other things because you aren’t in your routine at home + trying not to have your kiddo impact others – potentially cooking, depending on your lodging choices. We actually had a great family trip to Mexico when our second daughter was just two months old, but it was largely just a (very nice and very welcome) change of scenery and not a “margaritas in the sand” Mexican vacation.
Now I’m not saying that two months old is the right time to start traveling with a child, though I personally wouldn’t advise starting before then unless there is a strong need to since until then your sleep schedule and recovery from birth may not even be settled enough to hit the sky or road.
While my real honest answer as to when is the best age to start traveling with a child really relates back to when the parent feels up for the adventure, there are three “better than average” times to start traveling with your child that I’ll also mention.
Start traveling with kids when they are old enough to sleep okay, but still young enough to lay around and sleep a lot.
From about 6-8 weeks old until about 3 or 4 months old, many babies still sleep a lot, aren’t mobile, and are generally relatively easy to pack up and take on a trip. Of course they won’t really get much out of the trip beyond being potentially entertained in the moment (as our 3 month old very much was at Disney World), but if you want to go somewhere, this is a decent age range in which to take them along, assuming you get your pediatricians okay.
The one very big asterisk I want to add this age range is if your kiddo is “colicky” or having any sort of issue that makes day to day functioning more difficult than normal, then a trip at this age really won’t be a great choice as you simply won’t have the extra energy to devote to it. Sit tight and wait out that newborn storm until it passes.
Start traveling with kids when they are three years old and potty trained.
There is a very, very magical thing that happens at around three years old when a toddler becomes a little person who can go to the bathroom in a potty and express their needs with words. This makes pretty much everything about life easier, including travel.
Our travel with our first daughter really took off when she was about 2.5 years old and potty trained as taking her along wasn’t just something we had to do because she was our child, but it actually became really fun. She could understand where we were going, express opinions about what she wanted to do, and was able to understand the basic rules of flying in planes, sleeping in the hotel room, etc.
Kids may not form permanent memories of trips they took at three years old, but starting around that age, the family travel scales can tip from being more work to being more fun.
Start traveling with kids when they are “school aged”.
Another magical transition happens around the time the kids are school aged in kindergarten or first grade at about 5 or 6 year old. Not only are they verbal and potty trained, but they have more stamina, don’t usually take naps every afternoon, don’t need a stroller (except at Disney World), rarely break down in tears for no apparent reason, and can understand what will happen in a given day and on a given trip. They are also old enough to actually take part in lots of fun activities such as skiing and horseback riding!
Not only do they understand what will happen, but they can read books with you about where you are going and take an active role in planning. By 5 years old they are also old enough to go to almost any kid’s club that a resort or hotel may offer. This gives them a chance to play with other kids and it gives you a chance to “vacation” for a few hours.
By 5 or 6 years old they are also most likely making lasting memories on family trips with you, even if they may not remember every single detail of the trip.
There is no wrong age to start traveling with kids as long as you are up for both the fun and the challenge that comes along with it, but I would say that those three phases are good places to start with when considering what is the right age for your family. I will also add that you can always start small with a road trip a few hours away for a weekend or going to visit family where you will have plenty of reinforcements before deciding to book a flight all the way across the country or further. I’m a big fan of “small victories over big failures”. Dabbing your toe into what it is like to travel with your kids can be the perfect way to see what type of adventures your family is, or even isn’t, ready for quite yet.
How did you decide when was the right time for your kid to start traveling? Did you wish you had started earlier or waited longer?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.